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The Mavericks defense wasn’t good enough down the stretch against the Lakers

Dallas played a fairly inspired defensive game against Los Angeles, but key mistakes down the stretch mucked things up.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Mavericks lost Wednesday night’s game to the Los Angeles Lakers mostly because of another horrific shooting night. Dallas once again shot under 40 percent from the floor and under 30 percent from three, an occurrence all too common for a roster that is not that far removed from being the greatest offense in league history.

No Luka Doncic definitely hurts and a few more makes literally could have swung the game. While there’s no doubt the offense was the main culprit last night, a few defensive possessions in overtime stood out. The Mavericks played good defense for most of the game, but their failure to string together a few more quality possessions on that end of the floor in overtime certainly had a hand in the defeat.

First things first: The Mavericks defense, after wobbling a bit all season, appears to be improved. Dallas is 14th in defensive rating according to cleaningtheglass.com, which excludes garbage time and end of quarter heave possessions from its data. That’s, just barely, an above average defense! Something the Mavericks have needed to work toward the past two seasons as their defense significantly let down their elite offense.

cleaningtheglass.com

Against the Lakers, that defense was good for almost the entire night. The Lakers shot 60 percent at the rim, not only below their season average, but below the current league average of 64 percent. The Lakers also took 25 rim shots, again down from their season average of 30.1 per game. Dallas funneled the Lakers ball handlers effectively into their shot blockers, Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber did their job, and the Mavericks perimeter defense did a good job limiting the trips into the paint. Again, overall, an effective night. Unfortunately the overtime miscues really stood out.

Despite the Mavericks defensive effort, the Lakers scored 14 points in overtime on 6-of-9 shooting. Obviously defense becomes harder in an overtime game as fatigue sets in, but the Mavericks made some baffling tactical decisions down the stretch. If the Mavericks tired defenders were just getting beat off the dribble that would be one thing, but the decision making was extremely questionable.

After the Mavericks scored five unanswered points to take a 98-95 lead with about 2:30 remaining in the game, Dallas allowed the Lakers to score back-to-back layups. A stop in any of these possessions would have almost closed the door — instead the Mavericks kept it open and seemingly allowed the Lakers to walk through it.

After guarding LeBron James fairly well in straight up, 1-on-1 situations, Dallas decided to double before James has even started his dribble move. Kleber shaded James, which allowed Anthony Davis to get an open catch near the rim. Kleber doesn’t do much of anything useful in this possession — his double is soft, which allowed James to make an easy pass to Davis and Kleber failed to rotate in time to cut off Russell Westbrook from scoring an easy layup. Nothing about this sequence looked difficult for the Lakers, which you assume is the point of a double team — to make things difficult. Again, after the Mavericks had played so well without doubling most of the night, the decision here just didn’t make too much sense.

The very next defensive possession for the Mavericks might be worse. Davis handed the ball off to Westbrook without even setting as much as a screen and Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith decide to switch anyway. Davis then cleared space for Westbrook to try and take Kleber 1-on-1 off the bounce and Finney-Smith....stopped guarding Davis?

Yes, that’s what happened. Finney-Smith was apparently mixed up with the coverage and looked to Porzingis to switch onto Davis, but you simply cannot leave Davis that open right next to the rim, regardless of what the coverage is supposed to be. Even if you give Finney-Smith the benefit of the doubt that maybe the coaches told Finney-Smith to let Porzingis take Davis if Finney-Smith found himself switched onto him, that doesn’t mean you stick to that so strictly that you abandon one of the better finishers in the league. This is a lack of awareness that simply cannot happen when you’re leading by one point with less than 90 seconds left in an overtime game. The Lakers didn’t even make this complicated for the Mavericks — this was just a horrible breakdown.

The Mavericks have lot to figure out, mostly offensively. Again, defense was not the lone reason Dallas lost, but if the team wants to take the next step with this roster, these are the type of mistakes that have to be cleaned up.